Hector Henry: Cricket + Soccer = Tennis

Hector Henry 1Tennis wasn’t the first sport Hector Henry fell in love with, nor the second. As a child in Jamaica in the 1940’s he and his friends spent many long hours playing cricket and soccer. He was even so gifted at soccer that he earned a spot on the Jamaican national team and later went on to play semi-professionally in the United States.

“In Jamaica, at that time, tennis was an upper class sport,” Henry explains. “But when I moved to the States, more people were playing it here.”

With his soccer career behind him, Henry enrolled at Brooklyn College and competed on the tennis team. After graduating, he coached the school’s men’s and women’s teams from 1983 to 1992, as well as several professional Jamaican players.

Two of the first things he noticed about tennis were parallels with the games he grew up with. The groundstrokes were similar to swinging a cricket bat and the running reminded him of soccer. His athleticism translated from the field to the court.

In the early 1990’s be began his NYJTL tenure, shifting his focus from elite professionals to youth players. For the last 17 years, he has been the director of NYJTL’s Linden Park site in Brooklyn, which currently serves 162 kids, ages 5 to 18, from all different skill levels, including special education students. During the winter, he directs NYJTL’s Early Morning Winter Program at the Heights Casino indoor courts in Brooklyn Heights.

“Because of my experience, I work a lot with the advanced and intermediate groups, and some of them have metro rankings,” Henry says. “But we also teach beginners whose parents just want them doing something constructive.”

Located in East New York, NYJTL’s Linden Park program attracts many low- and middle-income families from diverse backgrounds, including African, Caribbean, Hispanic and Asian.

“It’s a challenge to compete with the most popular sports like soccer, basketball and football,” Henry says. “But tennis is becoming more accessible to kids and NYJTL has done a wonderful job bringing it to communities like this.”

Henry notes the recent growth in the program among his youngest group (5- to 9-year-olds) and Hispanic youth. “It’s tied to Nadal’s success,” he says. “He’s an exciting player and they want to be like him.”

On a recent afternoon, one of Henry’s former NYJTL players stopped by Linden Park to visit. She was one of the dozens of players who earned a college scholarship thanks, in part, to his coaching. Those are the successes that make him most proud. “It’s a wonderful thing,” he says with a smile.

4 thoughts on “Hector Henry: Cricket + Soccer = Tennis

  1. I can’t say enough about Hector Henry’s dedication, professionalism and good-will. This is the beginning of the third year of my children playing tennis. And it was only just last year that they made it onto his advanced training group at the Heights Casino on Montague Street, Brooklyn Heights. In one day, and this is not an exaggeration, Mr. Henry changed my son, Joseph, and my daughter, Katherine’s, tennis strokes with small technical fixes that had them hitting with crisp power immediately. Expertise wins the day, and that expression about some people having forgotten more than anyone will ever know is certainly true about Hector Henry. Mr. Henry’s hand-eye-coordination is phenomenal; the first time I saw him training the advanced group of about 15 kids I was absolutely stunned when I found out Mr. Henry is an octogenarian. He doesn’t get tired, and barely a ball gets by him as he’s feeding hits to the kids in the tennis drills he fashions. The kids (from 10 – 18 years old) return the balls with all the power they can muster (and some of these kids hit tennis balls like rifle shots). But Hector Henry doesn’t break a sweat, and he reaches out to smack balls back with ease. He’s a master. The best tennis lessons happen when the kids team up for doubles play, and Mr. Henry turns his baseball cap around, and takes to the court as someone’s partner. When this happened last year the kids were excited, and it was wonderful to watch Mr. Henry smack balls back with unbelievable precision, showing the kids exactly how to score definite winners. My kids are lucky to train with Mr. Henry. And I’m grateful to have this man as a coach for my kids in the winter. Thank you, Mr. Henry and NYJTL for everything you’ve done and continue to do for my kids.

  2. As an addendum: This is how great a coach Hector Henry is…on March 20th, 2016 at NYJTL’s Hartman Cup, the two finalists in the 12-year-old girls section were both students of Coach Henry at the Brooklyn Heights Casino this past winter. My daughter, Katherine Soto, won the championship, and the runner up, Keisha Marcellin, won second place. Think about why that might be…could be the coaching?…lol…it is the coaching! It was an exciting final, and my daughter, Katherine, gave me a heart attack on her way to victory because both girls know he each of them play, and there were some loooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooong rallies. Kathy pulled out a win-7-5, 6-3, but it was a hard won victory, and very very wonderful to watch. Both kids deserve a round of applause, and so does their coach: Hector Henry http://www.nyjtl.org/free-tennis/CTP-pictures/2015winter Hector Henry and his first and second place Hartman Cup winners are in the top row, second from left

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